A group of taxi drivers in Kilkenny are being hailed as heroes after it was revealed their Taxi Watch initiative has saved the lives of 45 people since the end of last year.
The suicide prevention project was set up by Callan man Derek Devoy in November after he witnessed three people attempting to take their own lives in Kilkenny City.
Two of these incidents happened on the same night, mere hours apart.
“I was driving around the centre of Kilkenny and I was going by John’s Bridge and I saw a fella on it and it looked like he was going to jump,” said Derek.
“I went over to him, got him into the car which I thought was the safest place for him at the time. I rang the guards and they came down. They took charge and I went back working.”
Less than two hours later, at around 3am, Derek was again passing the bridge and saw another man standing on it.
“I got him down and he burst into tears. He was a foreign national, he had been having trouble with his kids, he didn’t have any access to them.
“The first fella, he was threatening to jump because the bank was repossessing his house,” said Derek.
“So, I rang the guards again and they said ‘you’re joking me’ and I said ‘I’m not, there’s another fella at the exact same spot’. They came down again and the fella went off with them. He hugged me and he said I had saved his life.”
However, this was the second and third time Derek had intervened in a suicide attempt; a year previously, he stopped a woman from jumping off Ossory Bridge, also in Kilkenny City.
“There was an old woman on the bridge and another woman with her trying to talk to her.
The old woman, she actually went to jump and I grabbed onto her. She must have been about 65 or 70, but the strength of her,” he said.
“She was moving around and it took everything I had to keep on to her. I’m a big fella and it took all my strength to hold her. The guards came then and had to put handcuffs on her. She was in a bad way.”
The taxi driver said all three incidents really resonated with him, since he had previously suffered from depression.
“That could easily have been me up there. I broke my back in an accident and I couldn’t work or go anywhere for a year. I’m ok now, but it was a very dark time.”
In November, Derek put himself on a SafeTalk course to learn how to deal with depressed people and how best to help them. He found it so enlightening that he gathered a group of 15 taxi drivers and got them to take the course as well.
Together they formed Taxi Watch Ireland, an initiative that seeks to help prevent suicide.
So far, they’ve saved the lives of 45 people in Kilkenny and hope to expand to cover the whole country some day.
Thanks to a donation from Scorpion founder Walter O’Brien, who went to school with Derek, the drivers are all kitted out with potentially lifesaving equipment, such as throw ropes and floats.
To expand their operations in Kilkenny, Taxi Watch is currently fundraising €200,000 to refurbish a house for use as a 24/7 counselling hub.
“When you talk someone down from a bridge or something, the only place you can take them is the Garda station or A&E. The A&E is so busy, if you go there, they will flat out tell you to bring them to the Garda station instead, but as you can imagine, a Garda station isn’t exactly the best place for a person contemplating suicide. The last thing a depressed person needs is to feel locked up,” said Derek.
“We managed to get a house at the top of John Street, so that people can walk in off the street, and get counselling then and there for free. We have two counsellors on call all the time. Earlier this year, a teenager tried to jump in the river the day before the Leaving Cert. We got a counsellor in Ballyragget to meet her and we got her counselling within 20 minutes.”
For more information, or to donate, see taxiwatchireland.com.
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